— ericghanson: don't believe everything you think

I had a wonderful end to 2016, and an even better start to 2017:  This little guy has become my focus.

For 2017 I am truly going to try to make useful and interesting entries on this site.  I get it that writing helps one work through the problems they are solving and also provides a nice outlet to share helpful information for others, and this is particularly true in the entrepreneurial space.  So I will do my best.  However, I will start simple, so don’t get too excited.  Today I am thinking about the following:

  • Platform Businesses: HBR; Platform Revolution
  • Website Design: Random Post
  • Startup Fundraising: Feld Thoughts
  • Team Dynamics: Keeping cofounders excited through difficult challenges; learning to use new tools together; figuring out how to get a clear vision of how long we truly have together before our personal connection runway runs out (is it just money that will keep people around?).

Something else worth sharing: as I work on building businesses this strange dilemma I encountered in late 2016 continues to gnaw away at my mind time. If you were starting a company today and had this choice – would you rather have a business and no customers OR customers and no business – which would you choose?  Funny, when I ask this to friends and coworkers, most people look at me like I am ridiculous and then quickly choose the latter, thinking that this is an easy route to making money (the goal of business from time to time).  I take a different perspective.  What I have found is that the latter causes one to “chase the pretty girl around town.”  (Bad metaphor, I know.  Sexist too.  But you get the point.)  In other words, if one builds a business for the specific and very small customer set that shows up on his or her doorstep, the business is often only built for that specific group.  I know, I know, once you get some customers and make some money, you can then branch out and add features and new markets, and whatever else it is that will make your mind think that the business will grow.  My experience is that this does not work well and ends up wasting a lot of time.  Rather, I say stop chasing the pretty girl around town, and work on yourself, make yourself irresistible, and then the pretty girl comes to you.  My business goal for 2017 is to build my core business to be irresistible for a focused, but large customer set.  I have taken this stance with my team: let’s pump the weights, cut our hair, get some cool clothes, and be a really polite but assertive company that people can’t help but want to be around.  The mantra, then: Get your shit together, the customers will show up.



Read More

A while back I happened upon The Autobiography of Mark Twain while walking the campus of Michigan State University.  You see, my little sister plays in the symphonic band and is finishing her degree as an education major, and I had to kill time before her performance.  After stumbling into a “curious books” store, I ended up walking off with a stack of books as if I were a freshman preparing for my first semester as a literature major.  (Just what I need, more books…I remember that this same thing always happened when I would browse books at Borders – so sorry that place has disappeared) These moments are special, and the old books have so much wisdom.  What I found in that little store will forever change me:

William James – Pragmatism

Mark Twain – Autobiography

Jim Marrs – Rule By Secrecy

In his 1959 introduction to The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Charles Neider reflects on the struggles Twain had in writing the Autobiography saying:

“Perhaps if he [Twain] had lived a few years longer he would have found a sufficient perspective to organize the Autobiography and edit out of it all the irrelevant materials which his odd methods of composition had allowed to sneak in.  The fact is that the greatness is in there. You can edit the trivia out but you cannot edit the greatness in.  One of the ironies of art is that it is possible to win a war and lose the battles, and that it is more tragic to lose the battles than the war.”

I can’t help but relate to the very profound and acute suggestion that Neider is giving all of us in thinking about our own lives.  To reflect, to look back upon our lives is an odd endeavor as we often edit in trivia in our attempt to expose the greatness.  But it is surely self-evident, trivia muddying the waters or not, whether or not it is truly the case that our lives have been great.  And it is in this irony that Neider mentions–the irony of art–where I feel most connected to Twains struggles in thinking about one’s own life. (stuff it, yes I did start a sentence with “and”)  Somehow I have reached a point where winning the war has taken a back seat to winning the battles.  Why this has happened I am not quite sure.

Neider is correct about the irony of art, and it also seems this irony applies to our lives, for our lives when lived well are artistic and, let’s hope possessing a pleasant aesthetic.  My own losses, day to day in the never ending battles of life, have become more tragic than any sort of possibility of losing the war.  In fact, if I were to die today, I could confidently conclude I have already won the war.  This sorry state of being that arises from losing the battles has for me created a culture of hard charging.  In other words, win the battles at all costs, even at the expense of the war.  How has this become real?  Losing the battles have somehow become more tragic it seems, than losing the war.  Is this just simply the human need to find amusement?  I think that yes, this comes from a need to amuse myself, and I think that I am like you.  Amusement has trumped achievement.  This is our world, this is what happens when we travel along the bumpy dirty jarring back roads of life.  I am off the highway, on the dusty, two track trails with my machete, cutting my way through the brush and foliage.  And it certainly seems that winning the battles has become more important than the war.  Oh god…

Read More

I am lucky enough to have a very diverse set of friends and colleagues (both current and former), fellows from graduate school, acquaintances etc… They live all over the world, span many countries, and are involved in an amazing array of professional activities. Generally they are interesting people and partake in cool personal projects, hobbies, and sports, they read good books, suggest good movies, and ultimately contribute positively to the world. They all care very much about the world we are collectively creating. I used to be proud of myself for acquiring all of these great people in my “friendship dossier.” I thought that I was doing myself a favor by ensuring that this pot of people was a well diversified gang. I am starting to wonder about this strategy and I have Facebook to thank.

Over the recent months (and years) our world, America, and every other thing you can imagine seems to be falling apart, at least according to my Facebook news feed. The posts are constantly pointing to signs of the apocalypse and unfortunately every one of my Facebook friends seems to think they have a good argument about what needs to be fixed and how it should be done. The subjects of these arguments range from Donald Trump to the tragedy in Ferguson, MO to an apparent “police state” in America, to problems with the US Congress, to US policy on education, to racist white Christians, and on and on and on. Unfortunately, surprisingly, and frighteningly not many of the articles and subsequent arguments I have read on these topics make what we might call “good” arguments. Keep in mind that an inordinate number of these people have graduate degrees, hold positions of real leadership, and as far as I know, are generally very good, moral, and kind people.

This is scary. If your Facebook feed is not polluted with garbage at least 75% of the time, I would be surprised and would love to hear from you.

I am particularly troubled when people begin their arguments by posting random articles from “media” sources that intend to get eyeballs for marketing dollars as opposed to sources that encourage clear, rational thought about issues of importance. Yes i am pointing to you – the persons who continually quote sources from salesy sounding website addresses such as “addictinginfo.org” or “thesmokinggun.com” and then try to make a meaningful argument.

Like stumbling upon an oasis in the desert, I recently ran into a helpful post on common sense and argumentation and it featured a bit of wisdom from Carl Sagan (I remember excitedly reading a number of his books about 15 years ago, but apparently I forgot about his particular brand of good thinking–so glad he found his way back to me). I will leave this for you to mull over, but following are some of his suggestions to consider if you are detecting bullshit arguments. Make sure the arguments you make/read/support don’t make these basic mistakes and you will be on your way to making our world a better place:

ad hominem — Latin for “to the man,” attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g., The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously)

argument from authority (e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia — but because it was secret, there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned out)

argument from adverse consequences (e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because if He didn’t, society would be much more lawless and dangerous — perhaps even ungovernable. Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives)

appeal to ignorance — the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist — and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble (e.g., How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don’t understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will. Or: How can there be an equally godlike Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person? Special plead: You don’t understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity. Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion — to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long? Special plead: You don’t understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.)

begging the question, also called assuming the answer (e.g., We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed? Or: The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors — but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of “adjustment” and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?)

observational selection, also called the enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses (e.g., A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced, but is silent on its serial killers)

statistics of small numbers — a close relative of observational selection (e.g., “They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly.” Or: “I’ve thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can’t lose.”)

misunderstanding of the nature of statistics (e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence);

inconsistency (e.g., Prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is capable, but thriftily ignore scientific projections on environmental dangers because they’re not “proved.” Or: Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of capitalism. Or: Consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future, but judge absurd the possibility that it has infinite duration into the past);

non sequitur — Latin for “It doesn’t follow” (e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the German formulation was “Gott mit uns”). Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities;
post hoc, ergo propter hoc — Latin for “It happened after, so it was caused by” (e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila: “I know of … a 26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills.” Or: Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons)

meaningless question (e.g., What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa)

excluded middle, or false dichotomy — considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities (e.g., “Sure, take his side; my husband’s perfect; I’m always wrong.” Or: “Either you love your country or you hate it.” Or: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”)
short-term vs. long-term — a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I’ve pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can’t afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets. Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?);

slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g., If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception);

confusion of correlation and causation (e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore education makes people gay. Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore — despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter — the latter causes the former)

straw man — caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack (e.g., Scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance — a formulation that willfully ignores the central Darwinian insight, that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn’t. Or — this is also a short-term/long-term fallacy — environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people)

suppressed evidence, or half-truths (e.g., An amazingly accurate and widely quoted “prophecy” of the assassination attempt on President Reagan is shown on television; but — an important detail — was it recorded before or after the event? Or: These government abuses demand revolution, even if you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Yes, but is this likely to be a revolution in which far more people are killed than under the previous regime? What does the experience of other revolutions suggest? Are all revolutions against oppressive regimes desirable and in the interests of the people?)

weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safeguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”)

Read More

I am always looking for ways to improve my health.  On top of meditation, Bikram yoga, marrying a triathlete (this one helped the most), running, swimming, and on and on, late last year I was introduced to the Wim Hof Method.  I came across Wim Hof while listening to this podcast and immediately got sucked in by his infectious personality.  This guy sounds truly crazy (climbed Mt. Everest in shorts, speaks 10 languages, ran a marathon in the Namib Desert without water, and holds the world record for the longest ice bath).  Crazy is just my style, so early this year I decided to give his program a shot.

All of the science aside, in my own words, I would simply say Wim Hof uses breathing techniques, stretching, and cold therapy to gain control over the autonomic nervous system, allowing the practitioner an increased ability to fight disease, control adrenaline, and stay healthy.  I would also support his claims that his method can help you lose fat, boost your immune system, and get an amazing buzz from the release of what he calls “feel good” chemicals in the brain.  There is a whole lot more to what he does, so listening to him speak is the best way to grasp his claims that we can “take back control” of our fate.  So does it work?  I am astounded at how well his program is working for me.  While I am not yet levitating above the ground when I sleep, I am certainly experiencing the benefits exactly as Wim suggests they will happen.

Wim Hof is quite a character, but he is a great communicator and he has very unique ways with which he uses language to inspire and concisely share his ideas.  One of the things Wim often discusses passionately is “fighting the war” against disease, particularly the disease we know as depression.  I believe mental health and the power of the mind is most central to living a good life, and battling depression is nothing new to me.  No matter how amazing my life is (which it is often amazing and over the top), like most people I experience depression all too often.  Therefore I have used exercise and meditation, particularly Bikram yoga and endurance training to help fight depression, and I always feel at my best when I am doing both of these consistently.  Wim has provided another dimension to fighting the battle against disease and his tools are, without a doubt, very special gifts.  Check him out, read his “stuff,” and watch his videos.  You can change your life too.  Improve your very human experience, you will thank him for it.

Read More

This is my first post.

Read More